Hatshepsut absolutely fascinates me, for the simple fact that she was one of Egypt‚Äôs greatest Pharaohs and until recently, had remained relatively unknown. Her reign was during the 18th Dynasty in the New Kingdom and ran from approximately 1478 to 1458 BCE. Officially Hatshepsut was never an independent ruler; she ruled as the regent of her step-son Thutmose III after the death of her brother-husband Thutmose II. However, Egyptologists suggest that the co-regency wasn‚Äôt as forcefully stressed on her part after the first 7 years of being in power, creating the appearance of her as a seemingly independent ruler.
Her mother was Ahmose (the daughter of Nefertari and Ramesses II) and she was the eldest child from the union between her and Thutmose I. This status as the eldest child was used to her advantage on the death of her husband, as she associated herself with the reign of her father Thutmose I than the reign of her husband Thutmose II, thus portraying herself as the rightful heir of Egypt. Her sculptures and inscriptions never hide her status as a woman; she never firmly claimed herself as something she was not in order to legitimise her reign. Instead, her sculptures show her as a female but with the attributes of a Pharaoh. She is usually shown naked from the waist up as if she were a man, but with the traditional Khat head dress leaving only the hint of the curvature of her breasts. She would occasionally wear the false beard, although this was limited as her female predecessor Sobekneferu had appeared as a cross-dressing Pharaoh and ultimately was forgotten; Hatshepsut had no intention of appearing as a man, only as a ruler. She also used the kingly titles but inscribed them in a feminine form to identify herself as a female but legitimate Pharaoh.
Hatshepsut is thought by most to have been one of the most successful rulers that Egypt has ever seen and reigned for far longer than any other female Pharaoh. Her reign was seemingly peaceful in that there does not seem to be many military campaigns or forceful expansions of territory; instead she re-established the trade networks that had been disrupted during the Hyksos occupation in the Second Intermediate Period. The main expedition was the mission to Punt which she carried out herself and which saw the return of ebony, myrrh and frankincense to ancient Egypt. The expedition saw the return of over 20 live myrrh trees with undisturbed roots in order to replant which was the first recorded transportation and transplant of foreign trees. This successful establishment of trade links with Punt remained through the reigns of several of her successors and it was networks such as these that saw the wealth of the 18th Dynasty flourish and provided her with the money to establish her presence across Egypt with her extensive building campaign.
Hatshepsut can also be referred to as one of the most prolific builders in Egypt‚Äôs history as she commissioned hundreds of projects that spanned both Upper and Lower Egypt. The buildings she created were of a much grander scale than any of her predecessors from the Middle Kingdom thus cementing the 18th Dynasty as one of the most famed and impressive. She is remembered for three main buildings; the Mansion of Millions of Years, the Karnak Temple and her temple at Deir el-Bahari. The Karnak temple was erected in the idea of the importance of the god Amun-Re; the deity whom she claimed her divine status as the daughter of. It was at this temple that she chose to erect two twin granite obelisks to frame the entrance; which at the time were the tallest monuments in the world and one of which still stands as the tallest surviving ancient obelisk in the world.
Her temple at Deir el-Bahari was the most important alongside Karnak and is thought of as the most splendid. It is still intact today and the relief decorations show the details of her co-regency with Thutmose III along with the other royal women that she was descended from. She is however, portrayed much more than Thutmose III; he appears 16 times in the temple at Deir el-Bahari while she appears in around 72 of the images, but as this temple was created in dedication to her life and reign that is no surprise.
Hatshepsut also ordered the completion of two more obelisks to celebrate her 16th year as a pharaoh, however one broke during the construction. It is this obelisk that makes up the famous Unfinished Obelisk in the quarry at Aswan; which has long been used by Egyptologists to provide an example of how grand obelisks such as this were quarried.
Unfortunately, not much is known about the Mansion of Millions of years as in around year 42 of his reign, Thutmose III began methodically dismantling her temples and removing her inscriptions with a chisel, and sadly the Mansion was lost. The carved depictions of Hatshepsut were filled instead with the images of offerings dedicated to Thutmose I, the II, or himself. The Karnak temple was not lost but now only exists in ruins, however the temple at Deir el-Bahari still stands very magnificently today. Many of her self-commissioned statues still remain and are visible in museums around the world, with the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art housing many of them.
In early 2007, Dr Zahi Hawass believed he had identified the mummy of Hatshepsut and took the remains to the Cairo‚Äôs Egyptian Museum for testing, where they believed she could be formally identified as Hatshepsut. She is an example of a woman in ancient Egypt fighting for power and exerting her dominance and as a result, remains in history as arguably one of Egypt‚Äôs greatest Pharaohs.
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